2/20/24: A Change in Course: Raising

Connor O -

As with all projects, this one started with a trip to the metal supply store:

On the far left of the image, you can see the “remnants” section — that contains the cutoffs leftover from when big contractors, such as welding companies, bulk order specific sizes, or when careless customers and employees bend or blemish the unsold products. All that means for me is good sheet metal at a discounted price.


Tuesday also meant my first night meeting with Avi to discuss the helmet. Avi gave me a number of contacts I could use, and even put in a good word with Michael Allenson, the owner of Allenson Armory, who I struggled to get a hold of at first. He also allowed me to use a special tool known as a swage block (pictured below).


This swage block is essentially a fancy replacement for my DIY forming stake, aka the CV joint. By placing the sheet metal on top of it, and using a rounded hammer, the swage block allows me to dish the piece into a hemispherical shape:


I got about a third of the way to my desired curvature before the steel was actually too curved for me to physically hammer it. As I tried to hit the center, my knuckles would slam into the side that hadn’t been dished yet, and that’s when I knew I was ready to begin raising the rest of the way. I wasn’t sure exactly how to raise, but after successfully hearing back from Michael, I drove up to Show Low over the weekend to tour his shop and do a demo.


The top left photo shows me learning the process of raising in Michael’s shop. I also got to check out some of his projects, which included the gauntlet in the middle and the breastplate on the right. Michael was very welcoming, and extremely generous in letting me use his toys. I’ve never met a smith so willing to help before.
Raising is the process of hammering steel over a raising stake. The best way to think about it is like you’re “wrapping” the steel around a shape. Now, imagine taking a piece of paper and trying to fold it into a sphere. It wants to only bend in one direction because it can’t easily compress or stretch without changing its cross section. That is where raising comes in handy: By slowly wrapping inch by inch segments around the stake, the excess steel can be pushed downwards, raising a shape out of the steel. It’s hard to put into words, but surely photos can suffice:


In the first photo, you can see where there the steel has been discolored as I have heated individual sections at a time. By hammering over a raising stake (middle photo), I have begun the process of creating dents in the steel in consecutive circles. Between each circle, I place the already raised (dented) part of the steel half on the stake, and the unraised part off, then I hammer the unraised part until it sits flush with the stake. After that, it is just rinse and repeat until the desired curvature is reached.

Both these raising stakes were actually made from scrap: the smaller radius one on the left is actually the ball from a tow hitch that I have cut off and welded to some 3/4″ steel bar, and the one on the right is part of an 8-pound dumbbell I’ve ground a hemisphere into. As for the coming week, I expect that most of it will consist of raising the basic shape of the helmet. However, considering Michael said that this would be the most time-consuming portion of the project, I am confident I am still right on schedule. As for the hammer marks and dents, Michael also explained that the 12-gauge steel I started with (~2mm) is much thicker than is needed. Most of his work (including the priorly mentioned breastplate, which was used in actual fighting competitions) is made from 18-gauge steel at the thickest (1mm). Think of it like a car crash: it is much better to have something able to bend and absorb an impact, than have it be too rigid and transmit that force to the user’s skull.I’ll end with a quote from Vergil’s Aeneid (6.619-620):”miraturque interque manus et bracchia versat
terribilem cristis galeam flammasque vomentem.”In the midst he turns his hands and arms, and gazed at
the helmet, frightful with crests and belching flamesAnd as a fun fact, Aeneas’s helmet would have historically looked something like this, as the Aeneid takes place in the 12th century BCE, with my helmet’s design being some 1300 years more recent, in the 1st century CE:

Boar’s Tusk Helmet (With images) | Bronze age collapse, Ancient armor, Bronze age

Those are overlapping boar tusks stitched into leather. That would be a very expensive endeavor.

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    Is the helmet picture what you want yours to look like?
    Mr. McMath
    Connor, I am happy to hear of your successful visit to Michael Allenson's forge! Nice work identifying the Mycenaean Boar-Tusk helmet! There is an excellent description of this style of helmet at Iliad 10.260: "And Meriones gave to Odysseus a bow and a quiver and a sword, and about his head he set a helm wrought of hide, and with many a tight-stretched thong was it made stiff within, while without the white teeth of a boar of gleaming tusks were set thick on this side and that, well and cunningly, and within was fixed a lining of felt" Translated by A.T. Murray, 1924.
    That's cool -- it didn't even occur to me until this year that Trojan War era helmets would look nothing like the stereotypical ones we see in movies. And Alex, my helmet will unfortunately be more along the lines of the stereotypical Roman helmet -- I'll upload some reference photos in the next post!
    Love to see that the helmet is starting to come together. Have you ever been injured while working with metal? 🤔
    Connor, So much to respond to. Wow. I'm thrilled you were able to get to Show Low, and am so grateful he was so generous with you. I do want to discuss the crazy Aeneas helmet at the bottom. It's humbling--sometimes I find it too difficult to get off the couch to make a sandwich, and these humans were stitching board tusks together. As you know, I adore the quotes that are finding its way into this project. A question for you and McMath: isn't Hector known as "shiny helmed" or something like that? Could that refer to a tusk helmet?
    Valeria, I have gotten injured but not anything bad. I think the worst time is when I had burned off all the fingerprints on my right hand (they grew back, thankfully). I've also had a lot of just minor blistering from scale/rust that flakes off the metal as it's heated. Right now, I also have a lot of blisters on my right hand from holding a hammer. So, lots of little injuries but nothing outright dangerous.

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